Importing Italian Culture


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Pietro Bembo
Italian, 1470–1547
Letter on Behalf of Pope Leo X, to the Governor of the City of Piacenza, Emilia-Romagna, 17 March 1514
Petrarch Collection, Division of Rare and Manuscripts Collections,
Cornell University Library
Transcribed and translated from Latin by Guillaume Ratel,
Department of History, Cornell University


To our beloved son, governor of our city of Piacenza
Leo X, Pope.        
Beloved son, greetings and apostolic benediction: we want and thus instruct and order you to allow the agents of our beloved son the honorable Ramon of Cardona, viceroy of Naples and captain-general of the Holy League, to take the grain, which the said Ramon wants to draw out of the city and fields of Piacenza in order to feed his army, in the amount that they wish and without taxing them, so that their expenses remain minimal. Indeed, it pleases us to have it done so, for those things that benefit the army of the Catholic King [i.e. of Spain], benefit his holy throne as well as ours. Given in Rome, at Saint Peter’s [basilica] under the signet-ring of the Fisherman [i.e. the papal seal], the 17th day of March 1514, in the first year of our pontificate. [Signed:] P[ietro] Bembo


This letter is a good example of both the complex geopolitics of Italy, and the direct involvement of some humanists-cum-statesmen like Pietro Bembo (1470-1547), who had been appointed secretary to Pope Leo X [born Giovanni di Lorenzo de' Medici] in 1513, and would be made a cardinal in 1539. Bembo was also a major historian of Venice, a brilliant Classicist, and appears as a character in Baldassare Castiglione’s Book of the Courtier which can be seen in the case opposite.


In this letter, Bembo mentions the “Holy League.” In 1511, a coalition of various European powers was formed by Pope Julius II to strengthen Papal power. It included, besides the Pope, England, Spain and the Holy Roman Empire against the aristocratic Republic of Venice. But a year later, Julius allied himself with Venice against Louis XII of France. This alliance eventually expanded into the so-called Holy League, which drove France out of Italy in May-July 1512; disagreements about the division of the spoils, however, led Venice to abandon the alliance in favor of one… with France (March 1513), against new Pope Leo X and Spain; the French and the Venetians would regain the territory they had lost. The Catalan general Cardona, viceroy of Naples (then part of Spain) since 1505, was more or less successful in this period: he was defeated by Gaston de Foix (Louis XII’s nephew) at Ravenna in April 1512, but in August of the same year he marched into Tuscany, overthrew the Republic which was too conciliatory with France, and installed Cardinal Giuliano de' Medici (brother to future Leo X) as ruler of the city; three years later, however, he was unable to prevent the Venetians from joining the French forces in Marignano in 1515.